How to Make Your DVD Collection Streamable

If your family is like ours, you probably have a fairly sizable collection of DVDs. You have kids movies, feature films, television show collections, and potentially even home videos. Before Netflix made movie streaming mainstream, you probably thought nothing of keeping a media shelf full of DVD cases and occasionally popping one in your DVD player. It is so much easier now, though, to search for content through that Netflix interface. Wouldn't it be great if all of those DVDs you have around the house were as easy to access as your Netflix content?

Well, with a little time, a PC, and a home network, you can. There are a number of steps involved, though, so I've put together this guide on how to make your DVD collection available on your home network.

DISCLAIMER: This is a guide is intended for use with content that you *own* and have the *right* to use. Distributing copies of copyrighted feature films is against the law. Everybody behave and do good, mmkay?

Ok, with that out of the way, let's talk about the major steps in making your DVD collection available over your home network. First, there are a couple of things you are going to need:

  • A Computer with a DVD drive. This guide assumes a Windows machine.
  • A home network, wireless or wired
  • A gaming console (PS3, Xbox360, Wii) or Home Theater PC (HTPC)

There are three major steps in going from the content on your disc to streaming to your TV, and one optional step.

  • Rip the DVD content to your PC
  • Transcode the content to a streaming friendly format
  • (Optional)"Tag" the file with additional information
  • Publish the content on your home network

Step 1 - DVD Rip

The first step is to get the content of the disc and onto your PC (otherwise known as ripping) where you can work with it. For this I recommend DVDFab. DVDFab is actually a swiss army knife when it comes to DVDs and Blu-Ray discs, but we're only interested in one feature: HD Decrypter. If you find the software suite useful, I encourage you to buy a copy, as the suite of tools is really quite nice.

When you open DVDFab you will be presented with a list of options along the left. We are interested in the DVD Copy option at the top. We then get additional options. When ripping a DVD, you can select to copy all of the contents of the disc, which includes the special features, menus, alternative languages, and other content on the disc. Alternatively, you can choose to copy just the main movie feature. Your selection will depend on the content you are ripping, but for most feature films your best option will be Main Movie. On the right hand pane of the window use the source field to select the DVD that you would like to copy from. In the Target field select the folder to copy the content to. DVD content is large, and you will want to have plenty of room on your hard drive. If your PC has two hard drives, I recommend creating a folder on the second drive for storing the DVD rips. In the "Volume Label" field name the content you are ripping. DVDFab will use the name from the source DVD label, but you are free to use whatever you like. The software will create a new folder in the target folder with this name. Finally, for best quality, dropdown the DVD size selector to choose DVD 9. This will retain a perfect bit-for-bit copy of the disc rather than performing compression. We're done here, so click the next button.

This next screen displays the tracks found on the disc and which one will be copied. DVDFab is very good about detecting which track is the feature film on the disc. However, if you are ripping a disc that contains episodes of a television show, you may find that you need to fiddle with some of the options. For now, I'll assume that DVDFab correctly selected the main track. Go ahead and click Start to get the rip going. This is a long process, and the time it takes to rip the disc will depend on the length of the content, the speed of your DVD drive, processor, and hard drive. Usually you can expect an hour of content to take about 10 minutes to rip, but this will vary.

Step 2 - Transcode to H.264

Transcoding is the process of converting from one video file format (or codec) to another. I like the Handbrake software for this step. Handbrake comes with a number of profiles that allow you to tailor the transcoding process to the device you intend to display your content on. For the purpose of this guide I'm going to assume you want to display the content on a high definition television from a gaming console, such as a PlayStation3. Select the High Profile option, as this will give you a good copy of the content for streaming without too much compression. From the menu bar, click the Video Source button and choose Video Folder. Now browse to the folder created by DVDFab when it ripped the disc. You may notice that the folder you selected now has several sub-folders: Main Movie->->VIDEO_TS. The video content from the rip is located in the VIDEO_TS folder, so let's select this as our source. Handbrake will then suggest a target destination file. Again, I recommend creating a new folder for storing your transcoded content. Once you have the source, destination, and profile selected, it is time to start transcoding. At the top of the window you will see toolbar button to Start. Click this to begin transcoding. The transcoding process takes a very long time, especially on the High Profile setting. I've found that on my PC, the time required is usually minute-for-minute the same length as the content, but this will be very dependent on the processing power of your PC. If you have a lot of DVDs, you may want to rip several DVDs at once (Step 1), and then setup Handbrake to transcode them at night while you sleep. You may notice that after clicking the start button, the button changed to say Enqueue. You can create a job list for Handbrake in this way. Your PC will work throughout the night, completing the job list.

Step 3 - Tagging (Optional)

While this step is not required to get your content streaming on your home network, you may find it helpful. Tagging allows you to supply additional information about the video file, such as the actors who perform, the director, date it was published, and cover art. I use a free app called MetaX to do this tagging. It isn't the easiest app to use, but the price is right and it has the features I need. First, open the video file you would like to apply tags to. You'll see it added to the list on the right. Next, select that item from the list. Now, on the left side, enter the name of the video in the search box and click Search. The app will pull up data from several tag databases that match the search term. Clicking search results will populate the fields in the main section of the app. If you don't find what you are looking for you can manually enter the details for your file. Once complete, click the check box next to each box that you would like associated with the file, or click the check mark button in the toolbar to toggle all checks. Finally, click the Apply button (shaped like an arrowhead) to apply these tags to the file. You can add several files to your queue and tag them all at once.

Step 4 - Publish

The final step to making your content available is to publish it on your local network. If you are running Windows 7, the built-in Windows Media Server software can do this for you. I've found the security settings required to get Windows Media Server to work properly to be very frustrating, so I use PlayOn. The PlayOn service runs on your PC and makes content available to your other network devices, such as other PCs, game consoles, and mobile devices. While you need to pay for a license for much of the content, the My Media (beta) feature is free to use without a full license. Again, the PlayOn software is great, and I encourage you to purchase a copy, but if you are looking to stream on the cheap, the free version will get you there. The My Media feature of PlayOn requires that you also install the VLC Media Player, which is a fantastic piece of free software for playing movies.

From the PlayOn control panel you need to configure the software to find your local files. Pull up the PlayOn settings window and go to the MyMedia tab. You need to check the box to enable the My Media feature (beta). You can then add folders to PlayOn that will be made available to your networked devices.

Start Streaming!

Now your content is published, go watch it! If you have a PlayStation3, your PlayOn server will appear as an option in the Video section of the cross bar interface. If you use a Wii you will need to open the Internet Browser and browse to the address of the server on your network. The same works for the Xbox360 or a laptop. You will be presented with a menu that allows you to select content. If you use an iPod Touch, iPhone, or Android device there are PlayOn apps.

The PlayOn interface for streaming is a little quirky, and it can be frustrating to try scrubbing to a specific point in a video. The DLNA support on the PlayStation3 is fantastic, and is a great way for viewing your streamed content.


Jade Mason